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BLOG: How to save our bookstores

Zafar Anjum | July 23, 2013
Here are some solutions for bookstores to fight back and survive in the face of the digital challenge.

I think bookstores should exist in every city, at least as long as we have physical schools, theatres, multiplexes and museums.

The solution

By now, you must be yawning, thinking so many words but so far nothing new. I know you know the whole story.

So, let's cut to the chase and talk about some solutions.

The main reason our bookstores are becoming unviable is because of the rising rents and loss of revenue as sales decline due to competition from online retailers. Bookstore owners complain that people come to their bookstores for browsing books and then they order them from online booksellers (like Amazon.com and Flipkart.com in India) because they can't offer them steep discounts like the online retailers do. This phenomenon is called 'showrooming'.

Recently, I was interviewing Anand Mehta of Motorola Solutions and something that he said in the context of retail stores sparked a thought in my mind. What if bookstore owners could find in real time which customers were comparing prices of books with e-tailers on their mobile devices right from the bookstore? They can then offer them a huge discount and make the sale. Ta da!

Now, the problem is, how can retailers match the heavy discounts that an Amazon.com, for example, offers? They don't have to pay rent, right?

For that, look at France. France has a law that forbids Amazon.com to offer discounts on books up to a certain degree. In fact, they plan to go one step more. Reuters reports that  France's Socialist government aims to introduce a law preventing Amazon from offering both discounts and free delivery for books in France. That will be going too far, I should say.

What is there to learn here? Bookstore owners should approach their governments and ask for protective measures. To tackle the scourge of rents, they should try to persuade their governments to make it mandatory for every commercial building or mall to have a bookstore with discount in rentals. I think this is the kind of deal that non-profits get. The point is that book business is not like any other ordinary business and should be treated as such.

From the government point of view, helping bookstores should not be seen as anti-business or anti-competition. Online retailers will and should remain in business because some people are too lazy or too busy to visit bookstores in person. They prefer to read digital books instead of physical ones. That is also fine.

The bottom-line is that if bookstores go out of business, writers will go out of business. Writing is the backbone of many other art forms such as theatre and cinema. There will be an impact on these art forms too in the long run.

 

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